Had he not done anything else of significance, Arlo Guthrie could have built his entire career on the 18-minute folk/protest/novelty piece "Alice's Restaurant Massacree." And while early on it seemed as if this sort of humorous, hippie storytelling would be his metier, "Woody's son" slowly began to develop into a serious artist in his own right. Released in 1977, The Best of Arlo Guthrie is a worthwhile collection, if only for rescuing cuts like "Alice's Restaurant" and the live "Motorcycle (Significance of the Pickle) Song," and placing them in better company than some of his '60s records provided. Whereas these tunes -- including the smuggler's tale, "Coming into Los Angeles" -- were the highlights of his early recordings, they would simply act as pleasant distractions as his career progressed. As the '70s rolled around, such fine albums as Hobo's Lullaby -- which featured his lone Top 40 hit, Steve Goodman's "City of New Orleans" -- and Last of the Brooklyn Cowboys showed real maturity, but were still most notable for Guthrie's taste in, and interpretations of, other folks' songs. Still, the latter's self-penned "Last Train" is among the best moments here. The track, which is built around Ry Cooder's soulful, acoustic guitar accompaniment, improves on such previous Guthrie originals as "Gabriel's Mother's Hiway Ballad #16 Blues" (also included here), and leads into what would be his most productive period as a songwriter. "Last to Leave" and "Darkest Hour," taken from his eponymous 1974 release and 1976's Amigo, respectively, are good examples of this growth. The Best Of is a decent introduction to Arlo Guthrie's first ten years, but also look to the aforementioned records, starting with his best, Amigo, to get a more extensive overview of his music.
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AllMusic Review by Brett Hartenbach